Postcard From The Media Wild West

I am in media frontierland – in Guyana in South America on a university exchange trip to the country where I was born. It is truly the media Wild West out here. Anything goes, literally.

TV is all present in all homes. There are plenty of local channels – twenty plus at the last count. They’re segmented not by genre but by race and politics – like the society itself. There are black stations (one is even called Hoyte-Blackman TV!), Indian stations with a diet of Bollywood films, a government station which pumps out pretty raw material, anti-government stations and more. The economics of them all are very simple. They steal the product from the US satellites above Guyana. Simple – you buy a decoder card in the US for domestic use and use it here for transmission. The Guyanese call it the ‘ripe mango theory’, if the neighbours ripe mangoes fall into your yard then it is right for you to pick them up and eat them. They even have competitions as to who can steal the mangoes fastest and which station retransmits ‘Oprah’ first!

Writes John Mair…

The broadcast journalism varies from the bad to the simply bloody awful: poorly trained young kid reporters and cameramen who make do with little imagination in their pieces. Politics and serving political masters comes into all of it. The truth occasionally makes an appearance too. Regulation is loose and almost unenforceable. Radio is one station, two frequencies, both government controlled. It matters not – those twenty TV stations are radio in all but name.

The four national newspapers are not much better. Two pro and two anti government. The Guyana Chronicle-cynics call it ‘The Chronic’is a low circulation paper full of economic development stories think Pravda ,The Guyana Times-cynics call that ’The Daily Jagdeo’ after the President-is better. It ought to be-thanks to brand new printing presses brought in tax free courtesy of the President. The other two papers –a supermarket tabloid The Kaieteur News owned by an entrepreneur who goes around with armed security and whose profession is selling shoes and who has the National Enquirer approach to the truth.The Stabroek News is more subtle – just as befits a pioneer of press freedom under the previous dictatorial regime. Now it is behind a paywall and as the Guyanese say ‘suffering’ All the papers feature news that would struggle to make it to the Oldham Chronicle.Almost all of them leave your hands dirty and a nasty taste in your mouth at their raw politics and prejudice.

One special feature of all of them is the prolix letter writers-the last legacy of a once literate country. It is only a shame they are not matched by equally rigorous sub editors. I rarely get to the end of a 1500 thesis.

Even cyberspace shows the fissures of the society with some sites blatantly propagandistic and vulgar. The one exception is the new kid on the block-demerarawaves.com which provides a breaking news service on the net and email especially for the huge Guyanese diasporae outside the country. DW has ‘got’ the internet.

This is Election year when the fissures come into the open,sometimes rioting. The media here in the Wild West offer a cacophony of sound but precious little range. Instead of widening choice they are sealing people in their racial silos and keeping the racial apartheid well and truly alive. The society is reflected on screen,on air and in print. Pity!

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University.He is a research fellow at the Centre for Communication Studies at the University of Guyana for the month of May 2011. With thanks to BBC College of Journalism.

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